Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Guest Blogger: Sara Hartley

Our guest blog post this week comes from TCYP member Sara Hartley. Sara's story about bouncing around the country, learning about herself, and settling back into Michigan is something many young professionals go through: seeing what the world has to offer and returning back home. 

Growing up in a middle class neighborhood in northern Michigan in the 80's put a modern twist on the tale of Tom Sawyer. In the setting sun of an era where strangers weren't necessarily dangerous and running off into the woods at the age of 7 wasn't cause for concern, a grubby Midwestern kid lived the dream.

Unfortunately, it never matters where you are when you're a teenager. You just want to leave. Who cares that you're never far from a fresh inland sea or that the breeze through the trees in summer boosts your serotonin levels. If you've never known the grit and anonymity of a city, and the call to be "where the action is" strikes, it strikes hot.

I left Michigan in 2002 after graduating from Alma College with a music degree and had a handful of performing opportunities lined up to get me on my way. I moved from Colorado to New Orleans to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and finally to DC before my anxiety got the better of me and my career in music turned administrative. I worked in music administration for several years but never quite settled in on the east coast. I knew that it must be because of my failure as a musician. That had to be it! I was burned out and washed up and needed a fresh start. Back to Pittsburgh then on to Chicago and eventually Baltimore. From music to non-profit development to a culinary degree and finally to a career in education administration.

Sara in culinary school
Geez, when I look at it that way, my life looks pretty fickle. I liked Baltimore though. Met a boy, got a dog, lived in a nice little house, made a bunch of friends, started a folk band. Was I living the dream yet again? Somehow it didn't feel that way. Homesick for northern Michigan I thought I would convalesce a little with a camping trip, meant to restore my travel-weary, now 30-something, self.

It's a funny thing when you finally see the burdensome angst and envy of your younger self for what it is and know that it is time to come home. I was looking out the window of Tandem Ciders, watching a black storm come across the open field next door and I imagined getting back on the plane back to Baltimore. All of the restlessness, never being able to meet my expectations, never measuring up to the Facebook lives of my friends, being so afraid that coming back home meant I wasn't successful, fell away. The cipher clicked into place and my inner teenager relaxed and smiled, my inner grubby midwestern kid jumped up and cheered. It was finally time for my 30-something grown-up self to come home.

It only took 5 months to figure out how to do it. We moved to Traverse City just as we were expecting spring to break through. We've figured out that success has absolutely nothing to do with how big or far away the city is or what anyone else thinks of your accomplishments. It's about being able to smile at your neighbors and make a difference in a community.

For me, my roots are finally back in Michigan soil and I have never felt more successful.

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